From Fox News: "Please Remove My Nonsensical Asian Tattoo":
The touchy-feely, quasi-spiritual trend of getting Asian-language tattoos became popular in the 1990s. For many youngsters, or for people who wanted to feel young, a tat with the characters for “peace” and “truth” seemed just the thing.
Seems like we've been hearing a lot about this sort of thing. First, there was the story about house-blessing rituals with Pythonesque scripts about dry rot and such, in response to which Rebecca aptly noted the regressive trend in pop-culture spirituality toward superstition and shamanism. Then, there was Ian Brown, the amateur syncretist and former rock star who converted to Islam for better food in jail, who said:
"My sister bought me the Koran in 1990. I always thought the stories in it were magical."
And elsewhere (thanks to Mary Jackson for the quote):
He makes no apology for the fact that spirituality is a big part of his life, in quite an amorphous way: he reads the Bible, "for the stories". He believes in a "higher force" and that "all the great people have worshipped one god - Aborigines, American Indians, Muhammad Ali, Bob Marley, Jesus." And he prays. In Japan he'll go to a temple, in Morocco a mosque, in Mexico he'll pray to the Virgin of Guadalupe. And Rastafarianism? "It's full of joy."
Like the characters above (the house-blessing clients, but especially Ian Brown, who might someday find himself quoting the title of this blog entry with respect to his new affiliation), it's doubtful those in the Fox News story have lost their taste for relativism. But they have the added distinction of having evidence of their feel-good, pseudo-spiritual excursions tattooed into their skin for life. And there's another twist: Were they sure the tattoos said what they hoped for in the first place?
But now that the fad-following hipsters of a decade and a half ago have graduated to jobs and families, they are going to tattoo-removal specialists in droves, trying to erase an embarrassing reminder of the mistake they made one drunken night so many years ago: They were permanently inked with an Asian-language word that didn’t say quite what they thought it did.
For the non-tattooed, at least, the results can be worth a good laugh. Ko recalled one instance in which a man approached her with a tattoo on his forearm that he had always taken to be the Chinese character for “spirit.”
“I was like, ‘Why did he have that tattoo?’” she said. “It really said ‘gas’” (Ko assured the man that it was close enough).
Blessed are the poor in...? They shall be blameless in elevators and other small, crowded spaces.
However, one may find some consolation in noting that errors in Asian-English translation are quite a two-way street. A former classmate of mine who has traveled to Japan several times has noticed many Japanese wearing clothing with unintelligible or unintentionally, um, striking English phrases written on them-- if not for spiritual self-satisfaction, then for an air of sophistication. Indeed, this has been well-documented:
If there's a moral to the story, I suppose it's this: Attention to detail, in matters of religion as well as fashion, matters to someone, if not to one's self, right now. Though one hopes it may later.